Is this the best civic participation innovation of the past decade?
We make a big deal about evaluation on the Centre for Social Action Innovation Fund. Every one of our grantees is being funded to carry out an evaluation of their activities. Some are looking at the impact of the work; others are evaluating the efficiency of their delivery – what’s known as a process evaluation. A few are doing both.
We believe that independent evaluation is an essential part of any scaling strategy. Not only does it help organisations improve what they do, but it provides the ammunition to help convince commissioners or funders that it is worthwhile investing.
The more robust the evaluation, the more potent the ammunition. That’s why we hope many of our grantees will move up the scale on Nesta’s Standards of Evidence.
Spice Time Credits
This month one of our grantees - Spice - launched their first ever independent evaluation, funded by the numerous foundations that have supported Spice in recent years. Spice specialise in time credits, an alternative currency that rewards volunteers with credits they can redeem against local events and activities such as using a leisure centre.
Spice’s time credits model started in the South Wales Valleys where, coincidently, I also started off my career as a community worker. I’ve been following their progress since they first came to England about five years ago and always thought they were one of the best civic participation initiatives of the past 15 years. I’m now certain this is the case.
The results from the evaluation are impressive and I’d recommend reading the summary report. Over 16,000 people have earned Spice time credits in the last three years, with 62 per cent giving their time at least once a week. Users report that they feel healthier (45 per cent) and go to the doctor less (19 per cent) as a result of time credits. The positive feedback goes on and on.
For me, one statistic stands out: 45 per cent of time credit users had not regularly given their time before. For those of us who have worked – and often struggled – to increase civic participation in low-income neighbourhoods, this is a phenomenal statistic.
If I was a commissioner and Spice told me that nearly half of their beneficiaries were new to regular volunteering, I would have been sceptical. But now they have an independent evaluation telling me this. The evidence is irrefutable and all the more powerful.
Spice discussed their evaluation at an event here at Nesta and the findings had a similar effect on the audience as it did on me; no one left the room in any doubt over their social impact.
Spice’s first evaluation has necessarily covered the gamut of their activities. But evaluation should be a continuous process rather than a one off event. That’s why we’re supporting their second evaluation, which will delve much deeper into specific areas of their delivery – such as the impact they are having on the institutions using time credits.
The evaluation will be completed mid-2015; I hope that it will provide more insight into Spice’s social impact, strengthen their ability to scale across the UK and reinforce my view that they are one of the best civic participation innovations in over a decade.